SARASOTA, Fla. — Gary Sanchez’s spring started much like most of his 2018: poorly.
The catcher entered Saturday night’s game against Baltimore just 1-for-11 with a homer, no walks and five strikeouts in his first four games. On the positive side, Sanchez has looked good defensively — including in Saturday’s 6-1 win over the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium.
“I really like what I’ve seen, especially on the catching side,’’ manager Aaron Boone said. “His work behind the scenes has been strong. Now, it’s about getting regular at-bats. … He’s trying to find his timing offensively.”
And that was before Sanchez made two standout plays on grounders in front of the plate on Saturday, quickly pouncing on a bunt in front of the plate by Anthony Santander in the third and then making a strong throw to first. He made a similar play in the sixth.
“They were really athletic plays,’’ said Boone, who added Sanchez likely made the first one more difficult by throwing off-balance. “But to pull off that play confirms what we’ve been seeing physically.’’
“In that moment, you try to get to the ball as soon as possible and make a fast, accurate throw,’’ Sanchez said through an interpreter.
Still, what set Sanchez apart when he was a top prospect and then burst onto the scene in the majors was his offense.
And last season, that part of his game all but vanished.
Sanchez, expected to thrive in a lineup that included Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, hit just .186 with 18 homers and 53 RBIs. He was limited to 89 games due to two trips to the disabled list with right groin problems.
Though Sanchez showed flashes of the power many believe make him the top offensive backstop in the game, it was mostly absent.
He’s since undergone surgery on his left (non-throwing) shoulder, which led hitting coach Marcus Thames to say earlier this spring that Sanchez would regain his form.
“That’s his lead shoulder, so you can’t follow through the way you normally can when it’s not right,’’ Thames said. “He’s healthy now, so I expect him to be the same hitter he was before.”
The Yankees have said it’s a more athletic Sanchez who’s been working in Tampa since January.
“He got here a month early and looks good,’’ Thames said. “He looks lean and strong.”
Sanchez swung the bat well Saturday against right-hander David Hess, hitting a sacrifice fly to center in the first, followed by a laser to center in the fourth that was tracked down by Cedric Mullins.
“That was probably the best I’ve felt in the box so far,’’ Sanchez said of his spring.
The Yankees are counting on Sanchez to at least approach the production he provided following his August call-up in 2016 then for most of 2017 before last year’s fiasco.
If the troubles are worrying Sanchez, he’s not letting on, according to Dellin Betances.
“I’m not really worried about him,’’ Betances said Saturday at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. “He had an up-and-down year and when you’re the type of player he is, that’s obviously not what he wants.”
Betances pointed to several streaks a season ago when Sanchez looked like his 2016 version, like a month-long stretch from April 24-May 22 during which he went 21-for-77 with six doubles, nine homers and 19 walks, with an OPS of 1.114 in 23 games.
Boone said Sanchez would be off Sunday and play his first back-to-back games of the spring on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Betances is looking for Sanchez to have “a fresh start” in 2019.
“We know what type of player he is,’’ the right-hander said. “He just has to get back to that.’’